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My sister put our mother in a home where she died of COVID-19. Now she wants $20K mom gave me when she was alive

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My sisters and I disagree on most things, but never could I have imagined how our relationship would end. My parents put me down as the trustee and power of attorney for both their health care and finances in 1985, again in 2002 when they created a trust, and once again in 2014 when they updated the trust, and their various codicils since then.

I am the oldest child, and I have also been the one responsible for them. I helped them with moving, I cleaned their house, and I took off work and cared for them when they were ill. My sisters were what I call “armchair” daughters. They yelled and screamed their opinions from their lazy boys, but they never actually helped on any level.

After some difficult memory issues with my mom, she and I agreed to move her into assisted living in 2017. Mom signed herself in, and made her large one-bedroom apartment into a happy home. She played cards with new friends, gossiped with each other, and they called each other from their rooms.

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‘Mom was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s’

In 2019, mom was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As her symptoms grew worse in the middle of last year, she became unhappy. Her friends didn’t want to play cards as much, as she couldn’t remember the rules, which made her sad. Some of her friends also passed away. She couldn’t drive anymore, or visit her sisters-in-law or brothers-in-law due to COVID-19.

Mom asked to live with me, and I agreed. By this time, I was able to retire with sufficient income, and we happily started packing. One sister hated the idea of mom living with me. While most families would kill for this home-care option, and a sibling willing to do it, my sister railed against it.

This sister is the “her way or the highway” type of person, and she basically hates me. This was an issue growing up too. She displayed anger and jealousy, way beyond normal sibling rivalry, but dad and mom protected me. My parents even sent me to a boarding school for high school at my request, to get away from her. Even my mom was scared of her.

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‘My sister had mom taken away from me’

This sister decided to do things her way, to get her result. Mom fell, and had a bruise on her leg, so without my knowledge and consent, my sister used that against me, and had mom sign a new health-care power of attorney, putting her in charge.

My sister had mom taken away from me, and thrown into a nursing home. I immediately hired an attorney and filed for guardianship. While we waited for the courts, I had a Zoom visit with mom as she sobbed to get her out of there. Mom caught COVID and died days later.


‘My sister finally agreed with our attorneys to allow mom to live in my home, but this was only after she had been told mom tested positive for COVID.’

My sister finally agreed with our attorneys to allow mom to live in my home, after wasting everyone’s time and money, but this was only after she had been told mom tested positive for COVID.

I am so heartbroken, and guilt-ridden that I couldn’t do anything, and I am angry that the courts were slow to act. My mom died alone, thinking we had forgotten her.

How did my sister get this far? During the guardianship process, we discovered that the hospital would only admit mom for observation, but the administrative people at the assisted living facility said my sister threatened them if they didn’t go along with the new health-care power of attorney.

The bank tellers who signed as witnesses on the new health-care power of attorney submitted letters to the courts pulling back their signed statements.

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‘She lied about my mom’s condition’

We also submitted requests for health records, and found out that my sister had lied about mom’s condition. My sister also took all of mom’s belongings out of her assisted-living home including jewelry, TV, furniture, even though I am in charge of property for the trust.

I am now executor of the small remaining trust, which is worth about $30,000 to $40,000. I have hired an attorney to help me administer it, but I have a few questions outside of her responsibilities. Because my sister threw mom into the nursing home without researching the facility I also consider that negligent.

This facility already had several COVID deaths in early spring, they had terrible scores with the state throughout the year. What’s more, a majority of the facility’s employees were fired for alleged elder abuse. Mom’s best interests were never protected, and her request to live with me was denied. Clearly my sister’s interest was only controlling our mom, and keeping her away from me.

Mom wrote a check to me in 2016 for $48,000 out of money from the sale of their house (dad had passed away by then). This check was made out to me alone, and it came out of mom’s personal account rather than the trust account.

Even though mom gave it to me, I used this money to pay for her assisted-living expenses. I also deposited money into her checking account over the years to cover her assisted-living costs. None of my sisters helped out with costs.

There is $20,000 left of this money, and it remains outside the trust. I also spent $18,000 on guardianship and attorney costs trying to get mom released from the nursing home. My family thinks I am required to place this $20,000 back into the family trust, for their benefit.

What do you think?

Distraught

Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here.

Dear Distraught,

Thank you for sharing your story. It must have taken a lot for you to write it down.

What do you do now? You could use the evidence you have gathered to launch a case against your sister for elder and/or financial abuse, given the alleged subterfuge she engaged in to appoint herself as power of attorney and have your mother put in a nursing home, but that would likely be a lengthy and expensive process. A satisfying result against your sister or a suitable penalty is far from guaranteed. You have been through a lot, but this will not undo what has happened.

Assuming that you mother was not diagnosed with dementia, and was of sound mind in 2016, I see absolutely no reason why you should not keep the $20,000. You did your fair share of the work, and more. You deposited money into her account to help her out with expenses, and spent years taking care of your mother. Even if she gave this money to you as a gift to say thank you, it still belongs to you. You are under no legal, ethical or moral obligation to deposit it in a trust.

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With that said, I do hope you manage to do something nice with the $20,000, perhaps as a way to remember your mother and the time you shared together. You could take a post-vaccination, post-COVID vacation somewhere that your mother dreamed of going, or even take classes in a subject that you have always wanted to learn more about. Using the money in a way that serves to elevate your spirit and improve your quality of life could mark the beginning of a healing journey.

And your sister? I can’t tell you what to do about that. Ask yourself how much restitution or retribution will satisfy you, and if it would satisfy you at all.We all have a limited amount of time left on this earth, and how we choose to spend it is the most important decision we make every moment of every day. What we choose to dwell on while we roam the corridors of our mind should not take lightly. There’s no point in flying to Paris in 2022, for example, if you are still ruminating about your sister’s misdeeds.

This is your time and your money to use wisely. Your mother would want that for you.

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.





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‘She is a financial idiot and partier’: I loaned my sister $4,780 for a lawyer during her divorce. I am still chasing repayments

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Two years ago, my sister called me from a divorce-settlement meeting without a lawyer. Her soon-to-be ex-spouse had a lawyer there. She was being pressured into giving up her portion of his pension that she was legally entitled to (their marriage was over 20 years). She was freaking out, in tears and realized she needed a lawyer.

I told her to leave that meeting and get a lawyer. Afterward, she asked me for money to pay for the lawyer and promised to pay me back. I testified for her regarding other marital financial issues (I was executor of our father’s estate, in which her husband had made false statements on his entitlements to some of her inheritance). She thanked me again and again in front of her lawyer and promised to repay me.


‘She borrowed another $5,000 from an aunt for a child-custody battle, which she lost.’

I am not wealthy and did not have $4,780 on hand, but I have good credit and used my line of credit. It will be two years in May and I have not received any payment. She was supposed to give me some monthly payments and lump sums at tax-refund time. Last year’s excuse for no tax-refund reimbursement was that she borrowed another $5,000 from an aunt for a child-custody battle, which she lost.

She earns $90,000 to $95,000 a year, but this year’s excuse is that she is in arrears for child-support payments. She is not destitute; she is a financial idiot and partier. I do have texts saying she will pay me back and others that say she has no money. She swore before Thanksgiving this year that she would start paying me in January. January came and went, no payment.

During a text discussion in early February, she informed me about her child-support arrears (so no lump payment from her tax-refund again) and is only planning $25 per month repayments when she could. That plan doesn’t cover the interest on the loan, and even if I was OK with covering the interest, it would be more than 20 years.

I told her that was not acceptable, and that she left me no choice. I didn’t say what action I would take. So I am planning to take her to small-claims court, and garnish her wages. The Virginia statute of limitations is two years, so I need to do this by early May. Now the financial idiot sent me a check for $25.

If I cash it, would it extend the statute of limitations? Should I cash it? What is the best approach? Also, she is a social-media junkie; on her Facebook and Instagram, there are multiple examples of vacations, drunken outings and other expenditures since May 2019 that could have helped to dig her out of the financial heap.

There is a capability to reimburse, but zero will. Any advice is appreciated.

Deadbeat’s Sibling

Dear Sibling,

Only gamble what you can afford to lose. Only invest what you can afford to lose. Only lend what you can afford to lose. I don’t believe you will be getting this money, so I advise you to write it off as a bad debt sooner rather than later. Sure, try the small-claims court, but failing that there will come a time when you will have to say enough is enough: “I tried to do the right thing, she didn’t repay it, and I can’t change her.” I do have questions about what you hope to achieve.


‘I see two unhealthy patterns: Your sister’s grifting and your gifting. Each serves a purpose.’

If she repaid you the principal sum, would you then start to feel similar rumblings of injustice over the interest? If she repaid you with interest, would you then suffer pangs of annoyance over the hoops of fire she made you jump through in order to be repaid? After all, you were doing her the favor, right? How dare she put you through this. And, thirdly, what is this $4,780 worth to you? It’s already been two years of self-righteous fury, stress and anxiety.

None of this should come as a surprise to you. I see two unhealthy patterns: your sister’s grifting and your gifting. But each of these serves a purpose. Yes, your sister reactivates the statute of limitations by repaying a small part of the loan and, thereby, acknowledging that she still owes you money — five years for breaching a written contract or three for an oral contract, but talk to a lawyer about that. When it does, this tortured game of cat and mouse begins anew.

How far are you willing to go to retrieve this debt? How long will you pursue it? And aside from the prospect of knowing that you are still in with a shot of getting the $4,780 back, what do you get out of feeling perpetually angry and frustrated at your sister? Does it reaffirm that you are the principled, upstanding one in the family? Or does pursuing your sister for this money remind her on a daily basis that she appears to be incapable of keeping a promise?


‘In order to truly move on, you too need to take responsibility for lending it to her in the first place.’


— The Moneyist

I ask you these questions for a reason. Of course, she’s behind on child support. You already know that your sister is a dramatic (and possibly irresponsible and/or reckless) person who has learned how to leverage her alleged victimhood to her advantage. She may see herself as a victim of a bad marriage, cruel husband, biased judicial system, and any other circumstance that does not include her own choices and actions.

Your sister may or may not accept responsibility for borrowing this money, but in order for you to truly move on, you too need to take responsibility for lending it to her in the first place. Few could fault you for wanting this money back. But in the game of life, you already win. You are the sister who endeavors to keep her word, look out for others, and be the adult in the room. Your sister loses. You get to be right. Your sister is wrong. And, for exactly $4,780, everyone else will see that.

I understand that you would like this money back, but many people lead uneven, tumultuous lives. You may also ask yourself if this unrelenting pursuit of money from such a person serves you and does what I hope you originally had intended to do by telling your sister to walk out of those divorce talks and hire a lawyer: help your sibling and, in some small way, help make her chaotic life easier.

You are not a credit company or debt collector. You are, for better or for worse, her sister.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

The Moneyist: ‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

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Americans can’t file their income taxes fast enough — but they should brace for some unwelcome news in their 2020 returns

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It seems like you can’t get people to file their 2020 tax returns fast enough.

People are filing their taxes at a blistering pace so far this year, underscoring how serious Americans are about getting any tax refund due or any stimulus-check money they missed last year. The IRS began accepting and processing 2020 tax returns slightly later than usual because its systems needed a breather after distributing a second round of stimulus checks in late December.

However, there is some bad news that many Americans should be prepared for when they finally get their return: The average refund so far is $2,880 — as unemployed skyrocketed in 2020 due to restrictions on businesses and shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19 — significantly less than the $3,125 average refund at roughly the same point last year.

New IRS statistics released Thursday, when put in context, show people are submitting their individual tax returns at a much greater rate than they were early into last year’s tax season. As of Feb. 19, only eight full days into the 2021 filing season, the IRS received 34.69 million individual returns, agency statistics show.

That’s 30.5% fewer returns than the 49.8 million received by Feb. 21 last year — but that was 26 days into the 2020 filing season and weeks before conformation that the coronavirus had really taken hold in the U.S. Simple math, in fact, suggests the volume of individual returns this year.


Simple math suggests the volume of individual returns this year.

When dividing the nearly 34.7 million returns so far this year by eight filing days, the result is 4.3 million returns filed per day. The 49.8 million returns filed last year, divided by 26 filing days comes to 1.91 million returns per day.

Put another way: The IRS has received approximately 21% more individual returns than the agency received last year by Feb. 7, which was 12 days into the tax season last year. Right now, Americans are facing an April 15 deadline to file and pay their taxes (June 15 in Texas), unless they get an extension to Oct. 15, which gives them more time to file their return, but not to pay.

However, they don’t yet factor in refunds that include payments for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a powerful anti-poverty tax credit geared towards low- and moderate-income working families. Refunds incorporating the EITC and the Additional Child Tax Credit will start hitting bank accounts during the first week of March, according to the IRS.

After the Internal Revenue Service started accepting tax returns on Friday, Feb. 12, the agency took in 55 million returns in the first weekend alone, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig said this week. These 55 million tax returns were not just individual tax returns. They also included business returns and a variety of other returns, IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said.



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‘Greed is rearing its ugly head and killing brotherly love’: My husband and his brother are at war over an inheritance from a beloved neighbor. What can we do?

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Dear Quentin,

When my husband and his only (younger) brother were growing up, a childless neighbor was very kind to them and treated them as if they were her “nephews.” They even called her “Aunt Hilda.” They also treated her like family; my husband has visited her regularly over the years. But greed is rearing its ugly head and killing brotherly love.

When my husband was away in the army 30 years ago, Aunt Hilda gave a house and a piece of property to my husband’s brother when she decided to move to another state to care for her future mother-in-law, with the written legal condition that she had a lifelong ability to return and live in the house as well, should she want to or need to.

The brother decided he didn’t really like those terms, and after living in the house for a couple of years, used the “collateral” of the property to borrow money to buy a plot of land elsewhere and build another house. The “old” house has sat vacant for 20 years, but he does the minimum to keep it from disaster. She does not stay there because it is not maintained. He has stated that he doesn’t want to do anything that will encourage her to move back into the house.


‘At first, she discussed splitting her property 50/50, then she recalled that she had already given the brother the other house and land.’

Recently, the husband of Aunt Hilda died. She is 80, and decided that she wants to write a will to leave her money and property to my husband and his brother. At first, she discussed splitting her property 50/50, then she recalled that she had already given the brother the other house and land (current value is about $400,000, no small sum).

Now Aunt Hilda says since she has already given the younger brother the other house and the land, that should be taken into consideration. The brother is sending lengthy emails to my husband trying to convince him and Aunt Hilda that the previous “early inheritance” should not be taken into consideration “because it cost him so much trouble and work.”

It is of course up to Aunt Hilda how she wants to divide up the property, and whatever that is, everybody should respect her wishes. But if she asks the brothers how to do it fairly, what do you recommend? She is 80, but she might live another 15 years and any value assigned to the brother’s house today would likely change.

There is much more that could be added as to my brother-in law’s attempts to gain more than his brother, none of which reflects well on his character. My poor husband is heartsick over his brother’s greedy behavior, especially when he should be focusing on the welfare of Aunt Hilda — who just lost her husband — and grateful that she considers to leave them anything.

Should we intervene?

The Wife

Dear Wife,

Your brother-in-law is a lot of work and his inherited property is a lot of work. In that sense at least, as God made them, he matched them.

Your brother-in-law could be less self-centered and more compassionate, and it wouldn’t do any harm if he had one charitable bone in his body. But that is not who he is, and trying to wish him to be someone other than himself is an exhausting and ill-advised endeavor. Accept him for who and what he is, and you will both enjoy more peaceful nights as a result.


Remember, if one crazy person wants to have a fight with you, and you finally relent, there are two crazy people in that fight rather than one.

Your husband regards Aunt Hilda as a beloved relative and her estate as a gift, while his brother sees her estate as a lemon that can be squeezed time and again. What would I say to his brother? “The property required a lot of work over the years, and you have benefited from the property over the same amount of time. You chose to accept this inheritance early, and it has worked out very well for you.”

If he continued to make waves? I would feel compelled to tell him that it’s just plain unreasonable to constantly push for more. The love and care he lavished on his own property has been in direct proportion to the lack of care and duty bestowed upon Aunt Hilda’s home, and for all the years he enjoyed this property, she did not. You have to be prepared to stand up for what you believe is fair.

And remember, if one crazy person wants to have a fight with you, and you relent, there will be two crazy people in that fight rather than one. For that reason, advise Aunt Hilda to hire an estate attorney to draw up the papers fairly and squarely. Lawyers are paid well to deal with difficult personalities, and they have a duty to make sure their client’s wishes are upheld.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

The Moneyist: ‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

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